Members of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing load a CH-53E Super Stallion during an exercise in Ie Shima, Okinawa, March 17, 2021.

Members of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing load a CH-53E Super Stallion during an exercise in Ie Shima, Okinawa, March 17, 2021. (Ujian Gosun/U.S. Marine Corps)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — No damage or injuries were reported after a U.S. military helicopter made an emergency landing Wednesday at a remote island airport off the Okinawa coast, Marine Corps and Japanese officials said.

A CH-53E Super Stallion from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma’s 1st Marine Aircraft Wing made the “precautionary landing” at Aguni Airport around 6:30 p.m., after an “issue requiring immediate attention was identified,” 1st Marine Aircraft Wing spokesman Maj. Ken Kunze wrote in an email Thursday morning to Stars and Stripes.

Three-square-mile Aguni Island is 37 miles northwest of Naha City.

“The CH-53 that landed at Aguni Airport yesterday evening departed Aguni this morning and returned safely to Marine Corps Air Station Futenma,” Kunze wrote. “The flight crew demonstrated 1st Marine Aircraft Wing’s steadfast commitment to ensuring the safety of our aircrews, the community and the airworthiness of all our aircraft.”

The aircraft was operating as an aerial refueler at the time, Kunze said. The landing was “normal and uneventful.”

An issue with the heavy-lift helicopter’s flight control system seemed to be the problem, according to a spokesman from the Okinawa Defense Bureau, which represents Japan’s Ministry of Defense.

The helicopter was capable of flying back to MCAS Futenma but a maintenance crew was dispatched in a separate helicopter “out of an abundance of caution,” Kunze said. A Super Stallion typically flies with a crew of four or five.

Both helicopters left Aguni around 11:10 a.m. Thursday, the bureau spokesman said.

In response to the incident, the bureau requested the Marines improve their safety management, the spokesman said.

A spokesman for Okinawa prefecture’s military base affairs division said it was collecting information Thursday morning and had no immediate response to the incident.

Some government officials in Japan customarily speak to the media on the condition of anonymity.

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Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Grafenwoehr, Germany, for Stars and Stripes since 2024. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Okinawa, Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the news organization. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times and other publications.
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Mari Higa is an Okinawa-based reporter/translator who joined Stars and Stripes in 2021. She previously worked as a research consultant and translator. She studied sociology at the University of Birmingham and Hitotsubashi University Graduate School of Social Sciences.

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